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South Australian rock lobster fisher Kyriakos Toumazos has emphatically shared the need to support the local market in addition to other secondary markets while the China ban on Australian exported rock lobster persists.
Mr Toumazos, a Cypriot migrant, has spent over 30 years in the business of lobster fishing, an industry in which he and his family have been actively involved and known particularly for rock lobster fishing.
Mr Toumazos migrated with his family from the village of Frenaros (roughly 22kms outside of Larnaca) in 1986 when he was only 11 years old and it was only four years later that he was first thrust into the lobster industry.
“My two brothers and I were helping manage a business for my uncle called ‘The Fish Factory’. That business was exporting lobster since 1990 so we were part of that organisation in managing the areas that business was taking care of,” Mr Toumazos told Neos Kosmos.
The 48-year-old and his brothers have become increasingly known for rock lobster fishing, having been involved in that since 1997.
Mr Toumazos serves in a number of positions in the industry, including as an executive of the South Australian Northern Zone Rock Lobster Fishermen’s Association, an executive of the South Australian Seafood Peak Body and a director of Seafood Industry Australia.
This is in addition to him being a director of the family business he runs with his brothers called ‘Southern Fisheries Group’, which they have been running for over twenty years.
“I did a little bit of fishing in the early years but at the moment, most of my involvement in that space is the industry advocacy as well as the operational sale for our family business,” Mr Toumazos said while.
“We are currently running four lobster vessels here in South Australia and catching approximately 100 tonnes of southern rock lobster both in the northern and southern zone fisheries.”
He explained that the process of fishing for these lobsters involves the utilisation of approximately 100 rock lobster pots on each vessel, which they leave in the water for roughly 12-24 hours before retrieving the next day and keeping the live lobster on the ships.
“In most fishing areas, we do about seven-day trips and we unload our product at our family business which then takes the product and exports it to various worldwide destinations as well as to local markets (which we try to support very strongly),” Mr Toumazos said.
The rock lobster industry has suffered deeply in recent years ever since China, its biggest export market that was responsible for over 90% of Australian rock lobsters, introduced a ban on it in November 2020.
Mr Toumazos said his experience helped him anticipate the disastrous impact of this decision on the industry he is a part of, admitting that it has led to the “most difficult three years” in its history and will take time to fully recover from it.
“Because I have been in and out of China for probably three decades, I understood very clearly the impact that losing that market would have had on the industry. It all comes down to the geopolitical situation in the South China Sea,” he said.
Mr Toumazos elaborated on how his family business was able to turn to other markets to alleviate the effects of the China ban, turning to their historical markets of U.S.A, Japan, Europe as well as providing to other countries like Vietnam, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia.
“In our family business, we have tried very hard to diversify our market so we were exporting lobster to a lot of other destinations and we always remained a very strong presence in the local market,” the rock lobster fisher said.
“For our own family business, the impact was a little bit buffered but for the industry that I represent, it has been catastrophic.”
He reiterated that China is still the premium market for live southern rock lobster and that the hope is they can reengage with the country as soon as possible.
The overturning of the ban was reported by Australian media to be on the cards at the end of last year but that did not eventuate, and Mr Toumazos was not the least bit surprised.
“Having been directly involved with our customers for the last three decades, I can definitely tell you that optimism was not shared by myself and our group,” he said.
“We feel that the Australian media hyped it up and we were working very collaboratively with our business contacts in China. We feel that the lobster market will be reinstated at some point but we are not able to put a timeframe on it.
Mr Toumazos said that everyone in his industry will welcome China “with open arms” when they decide to overturn the ban but, in the meantime, they have to support strongly the local market as well as prioritise the secondary markets and promote their prod
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